Brewtripping New Ross: Bulwark Cider

This is an article I honestly never expected to write for Brewtrippers.

New Ross, Nova Scotia is my hometown. My family was one of the original settlers in 1816, so we have deep roots in the province, the county and the town. Despite having moved away from Nova Scotia nine years ago, I still love the town and province that I’ll always call home.

New Ross is a town of fewer than 2,000 people. And like many small towns in Nova Scotia, its historical industries are natural resources. Farming and forestry are the main industries, but there was also a long history in the apple industry as a major supplier of apple barrels.

Located on Highway 12, half way between the Atlantic Ocean and Bay of Fundy coasts, New Ross is a place many people – both residents of and visitors to Nova Scotia – have driven through.

But the town has seen rough times. Rural industries have been hit hard over the years. New Ross was becoming a story like many others. Lots of retirement aged residents but few young people. Many had moved away to Alberta or Ontario. But unlike many small towns, New Ross has seen a resurgence. Through determination, hard work and a love of the town, the residents of New Ross have turned the corner, in my opinion. From rethinking and re-imaging industries like forestry to embracing new industries like wind power, the town is becoming a shining example of rural development in its most authentic format.

With that in mind, let me explain why Brewtrippers came to town!

Muwin Estate Wines and Bulwark Cider

Dominic Rivard isn’t from New Ross. In fact, he isn’t even from Nova Scotia. But he’s at the heart of my hometown’s revival.

Rivard, a native of Quebec who has more than 20 years’ experience in the wine industry, came to New Ross from Asia. Having spent many years worked across the world as a wine master, he was ready to move back to Canada with his wife and young children.

In his apartment on the other side of the planet, Rivard was searching online for properties in Canada when a piece of land in tiny New Ross caught his attention. Unlike many areas of the country, rural Nova Scotia offers a lot of land for a very reasonable price. Those are winning ingredients for someone looking to start a winery. He bought the property without ever seeing it in person.

Rivard and his family arrived to a farmhouse in need of major renovations and with almost no knowledge of the town. Before long the fruit wine specialist was planting raspberries and blueberries, while also getting firsthand experience with New Ross’ most annoying resident – blackflies.

The Rivard family homestead, left, is only steps away from the rapidly expanding production facility.
Muwin Estate Wines began as an export focused business. With contacts in almost every continent, it made sense for Rivard to focus externally. Muwin has now established itself as one of the premier fruit wines in Nova Scotia. And I can confirm that Rivard’s reputation as a fruit wine expert is well founded. If you enjoy fruit wines, their Red Barn series has some amazing choices!

But it was the introduction of Bulwark Cider that we took particular notice of as beer lovers. The cider and beer communities have come together in a way I had never predicted. Craft beer publications now feature cider alongside beer and craft beer events always have a cider option available. It’s now an expectation that cider and craft beer will be on tap side-by-side in bars.

Bulwark has shown up all over the brewing community. Beer lovers from across Canada are recognizing Bulwark as one of the premier Canadian ciders. As evidence of that, Bulwark’s Gold Cider was recognized as the top Specialty Cider at the 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards.

Rivard was kind enough to give me a tour of their facility when I visited. The first thing I noticed was the parking lot was full. Their ever-expanding production requires a lot of staff, which has meant good jobs for New Ross. Combining office and production staff, I saw at least a dozen people on site. This makes Muwin and Bulwark one of the largest employers in town.

As I walked through the facility, Rivard pointed out lines in the concrete that showed where a wall had been removed to expand the building. Even after three large expansions, the building is surrounded by shipping containers that are being used as storage to free up space inside. Rivard was also awaiting the delivery of two massive tanks which will allow for a doubling of juice storage.

This is where we encounter the main challenge facing Bulwark. Cider is made from apple varieties that serve the purpose of juice and cider making really well. These varieties are not as good for eating. Over the years, many apple growers have switched from heritage variety apples (good for cider) to varieties that sell directly to the consumer for eating.

So despite being less than half an hour from the Annapolis Valley, one of the world’s best apple growing regions, Bulwark faces an annual risk of running out of apples. Expanded storage means he can buy more apples early in the season for use later. And Bulwark has partnered with the province’s largest apple supplier, Scotian Gold, to help address supply shortages. But the challenge remains.

Apple boxes line the driveway
Empty apple boxes fence in areas of the Bulwark property
This adds a level of complexity to Rivard’s business. In addition to making excellent cider and growing their lineup, he must also lobby apple growers to keep or plant heritage variety apples in order to help the cider industry keep up with the exploding demand.

Cider isn’t going away, so if you want to do your part to help companies like Bulwark, reach out to your provincial apple grower association and add your voice.

But what about the cider itself? Bulwark has done an excellent job in putting variety into their offerings.

  • Want a classic cider that’ll blow you away? Go for Bulwark Classic.
  • Looking for something a bit different – maybe some honey in that cider? You want Bulwark Gold.
  • Want to taste rural Nova Scotia in a glass? Bulwark Blush adds wild berries into the mix.
  • Find ciders too sweet and want something closer to beer? Say hello to Bulwark Hopped!

The full line-up of Bulwark ciders
Bulwark has something for everyone! Photo credit: Bulwark
But Brewtrippers isn’t just about the drinks and the company. Behind every good beer or cider is a great town or city. And I was curious to hear about the experience of arriving there without having seen the town beforehand.

New Ross used to be a difficult spot for new arrivals. Small towns have a way of being like that sometimes. But that’s not been Rivard’s experience – although he had to get used to how quickly news travels in small towns! He and his family have embraced New Ross, and New Ross has embraced them in return. When I visited my favourite restaurant in town, Peasant’s Pantry, Rivard’s daughter was working in the kitchen and her cooking abilities alone are a reason to visit!

Reviving the economies of small towns isn’t easy or fast. But it definitely requires people like Rivard to take a chance. More often than not, success stories like Bulwark are the result.

When you come to New Ross, you can get a taste of Bulwark at the local liquor store or Legion. And with Bulwark distribution now in multiple countries across the world, you may soon get a taste in your own hometown!

Update: Bulwark’s ciders continue to be recognized for their high quality! At the 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards, Bulwark took home two gold, a silver and a bronze! See the full winner list online.

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